Which NHL teams might be contenders next season?

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capscontender.jpgIt’s a pretty slow night, so such evenings lend themselves to meandering little curiosities like this Canoe.ca article regarding future contenders in the NHL.

So who’s next?

After adding Taylor Hall to a stockpile of offensive prospects that also includes world junior hero Jordan Eberle and skilled Swede Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, the Oilers are being billed as a future force to be reckoned with.

Jonathan Bernier finally seems ready for stardom, giving the Kings a hotshot puck-stopper to complement an up-and-coming core featuring sniper Anze Kopitar and blueline ace Drew Doughty.

The Coyotes and Avalanche have stashed a cache of young weapons, while sharpshooters Steven Stamkos and John Tavares are trying to author turnarounds in Tampa Bay and Long Island, where they’re not yet legal drinking age.

But the Capitals seem closest to sipping champagne from Lord Stanley’s mug.

The Washington Capitals are on my short list of “Teams who look promising even though it’s only July.” I’d like to see what the Chicago Blackhawks do with their goalie situation to truly assess their quality as a team, but I think they’d make the list. You know what, let’s list them for fun right now.

  • Capitals
  • Blackhawks
  • Pittsburgh Penguins
  • Philadelphia Flyers?
  • Vancouver Canucks
  • Detroit Red Wings
  • San Jose Sharks

Obviously this list is ridiculously preliminary and each team has some problems.

Out East, I’d be surprised if there was much change among the best teams. The Capitals will forever be critiqued as soft and/or “chokers” until they make an impact in the playoffs, but what they really need is a shutdown defenseman and a second line center. The Penguins loaded up on defense but might actually decline in their greatest area of weakness: wingers. Everyone can write the same things they always write about the Flyers’ goalies.

nucksgotchucked.jpgIn the Western Conference, my guess is that things will be fairly similar to last season. Chicago cannot be judged until their team is complete, but they still have the core players to be a contender. The San Jose Sharks made a big but possibly reasonable change in net – and besides – their “failures are higher than most teams’ successes.”

The two most interesting teams might be the Canucks and Red Wings. Vancouver got whooped by Chicago in the playoffs – really, they fell apart – but they still have some interesting elements. Adding Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard to a defense that might have been their biggest weakness last year might make them the best in the West. But don’t forget about the Red Wings, either, a team who became the league’s hottest club once their injury-ravaged squad actually came together.

Soon enough, we’ll be making previews for next season. While the preferred method is to use a blindfold and some darts, those above teams are the ones who come to my mind when I think contenders for next year. Who do you think will make a splash in the 2010-11 season?